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Water-Related News

Blue-Green Algae Task Force approves 1st recommendations

Task Force comes to consensus on first set of water quality improvement recommendations

TALLAHASSEE – This week, the Blue-Green Algae Task Force met and approved its first set of recommendations to address water quality and harmful algal blooms.

The Blue-Green Algae Task Force is an advisory body, appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis, to aid the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in fulfilling its mission to protect, conserve and manage the state’s natural resources and enforce its environmental laws. The task force, through its discussion and deliberations, provides guidance and specific, science-based recommendations with the goal of expediting improvements and restoration of Florida’s water bodies that have been adversely affected by blue-green algae blooms.

“I appreciate the time the task force members and the public have invested in these important discussions. This commitment is a testament to the passion these leading scientists and residents of our state have for the protection of our natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. ”I look forward to utilizing these recommendations to identify regulatory and management strategies to expedite water quality improvements.”

“The recommendations released by the task force are the result of a deliberative and transparent process and reflect DEP’s commitment as a state agency to science-based decision making. These recommendations will undoubtedly be used to inform viable and effective policy,” said Chief Science Officer Dr. Thomas Frazer. “The task force will continue to meet and will delve even more deeply into a broader suite of issues related to water quality and algal blooms moving forward.”

A copy of the consensus document can be found on the Blue-Green Algae Task Force website.

City of Sarasota seeks Sarasota County OK to use Ted Sperling Park as staging area

As the city of Sarasota moves toward dredging Big Pass to renorish Lido Key beaches as soon as early 2020, officials are seeking permission from the county to use Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Key as a staging area.

Earlier this month, Sarasota City Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie appeared at a County Commission meeting to formally share the city’s request to use the county-owned park site popular with kayakers and other watersports enthusiants during construction.

She read a Sept. 27 letter from City Manager Tom Barwin into the record.

The letter said the use of the land at Ted Sperling Park could save the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Army Corps is in the process of preparing a new bid proposal after the group’s first attempt failed to secure a satisfactory price for a contractor.

The meeting drew residents from Lido Key and Siesta Key who spoke for and against, respectively, the use of the park as a staging area.

Climate-focused initiative appoints regional director to address climate issues

A community partnership aimed at educating the Southwest Florida region on climate change solutions has appointed a regional director.

A slew of local organizations: from the Community Foundation of Collier County and Florida Gulf Coast University to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida teamed up to form Growing Climate Solutions – Path to Positive Southwest Florida.

The initiative’s goals are to “empower community members and leaders to initiate change, ensure a prosperous and healthy community, build climate literacy and protect natural assets,” according to its website.

The consortium of groups named Ana Puszkin-Chevlin as the regional director for the new initiative.

North Port Joins Fifth Annual “Imagine a Day Without Water”

The City of North Port has joined elected officials, water utilities, community leaders, educators, and businesses from across the country as part of the fifth annual Imagine a Day Without Water vent, a nationwide day of education and advocacy about the value of water. Led by the Value of Water Campaign, a thousand organizations across the country will raise awareness about not taking water for granted and the crucial need for investment in our nation’s water systems.

The City joined Imagine a Day Without Water to draw attention the increasing demands put upon our area resources as well as options that are available to decrease the usage of potable water. The City of North Port offers reclaimed water service to specific areas within the community which can offset the demand for potable water. At a significant cost savings, reclaimed water can be utilized to water lawns and landscaping, as well as be used for washing vehicles, or used in decorative fountains.

Report: Florida’s water supplies under extreme pressure

State, water management districts and local utilities promote conservation, reclaimed water and new sources in response and preparation of the state’s expanding population.

Given its birth and death rates and constant influx of newcomers, Florida’s population is increasing by more than 900 people daily.

That expanding population requires water — water to drink, cook, bathe, grow food, even operate power plants.

The Florida Office of Economic & Demographic Research says the statewide daily demand for water, 6.4 billion gallons as of 2015, is projected to increase by 17% in the next 20 years to more than 7.5 billion gallons as the population climbs to 25.2 million. That demand could be higher and the availability of that water lessened if climate change increases the frequency of droughts.

Not one of Florida’s five water management districts, which oversee permits for water supplies, “can meet its future demand solely with existing source capacity,” the agency stated in a recent report.

Congressional committee presses EPA over WOTUS rollback

A congressional subcommittee questioned the Trump administration on Wednesday over its rollback of Obama-era Clean Water Act protections.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency repealed a 2015 rule that expanded the definition of "waters of the United States," or WOTUS, a definition intended to clarify which waterways and wetlands are federally regulated.

In prepared testimony delivered Wednesday, David Ross, an administrator in the EPA's water office, said the Obama-era rules "failed to adequately recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of states to manage their own land and water resources."

Congressional Democrats criticized the repeal, contending it will lead to more pollution and threaten drinking water. Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio said industry "can dump whatever they want in [the water] because it's an economic value to them. And then it just flows over the border to another state. If their people want to drink it, that's their problem."

Septic tanks eyed in efforts to combat algae

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection should be teamed with health officials who permit septic tanks as the state tries to ensure cleaner waterways, members of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force agreed Wednesday.

Expanding oversight of the state’s millions of septic tanks was among a list of general recommendations that received some support Wednesday from the five-member task force as part of a draft report.

The report, based on topics reviewed so far, is expected to provide guidance for lawmakers as they approach the 2020 legislative session.

But task force members, who met this week in Naples, made clear they still intend to tackle issues about wastewater reuse or recycled water and agriculture and urban uses of herbicides and fertilizers, topics they have not fully addressed.

Water Management District board vacancies concern some conservationists

The Southwest Florida Water Management Board met this week. At last.

The board had to cancel a meeting recently because it lacked enough members present to have a quorum. Only seven of its 13 seats were filled at the time, and one member did not attend. The other vacant seats were awaiting appointments from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

And while the water management district has now approved its $202 million budget and its tax rate for homeowners in the 16 counties it covers, some conservationists are looking at water district board vacancies with concern. Is DeSantis living up to his environmental agenda announced in January, or is he dragging his feet?

“He has made some bold promises to improving water quality, and we're going to continue to advocate for that and hold them accountable for those promises,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“And we know that there are a lot of things going on that should be concluding, you know, right around now at the end of summer, beginning of fall,” Lopez said. “So we'll start to see if the administration is able to put his money where his mouth is and really deliver on some of the promises of improving Florida's water quality.”

Lopez added it is crucial that the water districts address red tide and blue-green algae blooms statewide. A task force on blue-green algae held its last meeting Wednesday, but its recommendations have not yet been sent to the water districts to be implemented.

Other water districts have received speedier attention. In South Florida, where the sugar industry and Everglades restoration are high-profile issues, DeSantis quickly moved to replace the entire South Florida Water Management District Board in January after it refused to put off a November 2018 vote on a new sugar farming lease that he wanted to review.

EPA considering first fish farm in Gulf of Mexico

Environmental & fishing groups oppose the Hawaii-based company’s plan.

A Hawaii-based company wants to open the first offshore fish farm in the Gulf of Mexico about 45 miles west of Sarasota. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which approved a draft permit in August, is seeking public comment on issuing a final permit on the project through Sunday.

Fishing and environmental groups have already raised objections to the proposal by Kampachi Farms to anchor a chain-link mesh pen offshore to raise 20,000 Almaco jack fish – a relative of the popular amberjack – for human consumption. The company plans to hatch the fish from eggs in tanks on shore, then when they become fingerlings move them to the open ocean pen.

The farm, a pilot project, would not only be a first for the gulf, but would also be the first in the federal waters of the continental United States. If it works, then look for others to follow, both here and elsewhere, said Kampachi co-founder Neil Anthony Sims.

“We think the gulf coast of Florida around Tampa offers the most advantageous location, given the criteria we’re looking at,” Sims said. Other companies are eyeing potential fish farm locations off of California and Long Island, he said.

That’s the main reason the Kampachi proposal is drawing opposition from environmental groups and commercial fishing operations: They don’t want offshore fish farms to start popping up all around the country, because they view them as a threat to clean water and a thriving fishing industry.

Questions remain over long-term health effects of blue-green algae

Coughing, wheezing, and rashes. Those are just some of the health problems readers are telling us about when it comes to previous bouts of blue-green algae in Southwest Florida. “It’s hurting our tourism. It’s killing dogs and livestock and fish,” said David Spiers, who works for a company that’s working to kill blue-green algae blooms as we saw in 2018. The state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force is talking about the issue in Naples. And it’s so serious, Florida’s surgeon general Scott Rivkees made an appearance.

He says, “Health effects for blue-green algae toxins have been recognized for almost 1,000 years.”

The big question remains: What are the long-term health effects of the algae?

Florida’s state toxicologist Dr. Kendra Goff says, “We still don’t have a lot of information about what is going on with the longer-term impacts.”

Which also makes it hard to predict when harmful algae will show up.

Florida's Blue-Green Algae Task Force focuses on DOH response, future actions

The state needs a better way to tell the public whether there's a blue-green algae bloom on popular waterways during the summer.

Those were some of the sentiments from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Blue-Green Algae Task Force, which met Wednesday in Naples.

"In the short term we have some real shortcomings," said task force chair and Florida's top scientist Tom Frazer. "We’re limited by technology to quickly assess the toxins."

The task force was formed earlier this year as part of an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Aimed at addressing growing blue-green algae blooms in fresh water systems, the task force met for the fourth time and focused on the Florida Department of Health and how the agency can better inform the public about blue-green blooms.

DOH's public perception took a hit last summer as the agency was slow to respond to media, the public and conditions at the time.

North Port financial dilemma: Aging water control infrastructure

NORTH PORT — General Development Corp. built 81 miles of canals and waterways in the 1950s to transform wetlands into buildable lots for its North Port Charlotte development. Those canals and waterways — a defining characteristic of the city now called North Port — function in a way that is analogous to the human body’s circulatory system. The canals control flooding, keep water moving to provide stormwater treatment, and are a source of drinking water for city residents, noted city Stormwater Engineer Elizabeth Wong. Every day, road and drainage personnel check and manipulate water flow through the canals at each of 23 gated water control structures that — along with 41 weirs — move water that drains from property in the city to the Myakkahatchee Creek.

“This time of year, I’m moving water every day,” said Chuck Speake, operations and maintenance manager for North Port Public Works.

Speake has seen an aerial photo from the 1940s that showed one big water body — the Myakkahatchee Creek — and surrounding swampy wetlands.

“They dug these canals in a fashion that pretty much drained the water, put it where they wanted, and moved it out,” Speake said.

But most of the infrastructure that allows crews to put water where they want is at least 60 years old. Sixteen of the water-control structures and two weirs are in poor condition and need to be replaced.

Florida Gov. DeSantis rolls out environmental proposals

Gov. Ron DeSantis wants lawmakers to double fines for sewage spills into waterways and to lock an environmental-funding pledge into state budgets for at least the next three years.

The proposals are the first of a series the governor said he will make ahead of the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee on Monday to start holding committee meetings to prepare for the session.

Doubling fines for sewage spills would eliminate what DeSantis described as a “slap me on the wrist” approach to penalties for local governments. Civil penalties are now up to $10,000 a day, DeSantis said during an appearance last week at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center in Naples.

“What we end up seeing happening is, you have some of these municipalities, it’s cheaper for them to pay a fine and spew all this sewage into the waterways, because it’s the cost of doing business,” DeSantis said. “They’d rather do that than invest in the infrastructure they need to make sure the waterways surrounding them are safe and clean.”

DeSantis noted, for example, spills that have occurred into Tampa Bay.

Small harvest leaves Florida stone crabbers in a pinch

There is one more victim of the red tide outbreak that plagued Florida’s Gulf Coast last year. This season’s stone crab harvest is among the state's lowest, according to seafood industry experts.

Estimates show only 1.9 million pounds were collected during the season, reports NationalFisherman.com.

The season ran from Oct. 15, 2018 to May 15, 2019. An average season ranges between 2.5 and 3.2 million pounds.

According to Bill Kelly, the executive director of the Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, red tide is to blame.

The algae bloom cut off oxygen to the seafloor in Florida’s southern waters, forcing the crabs to move to other areas in search of better conditions.

"Stone crabs are typical burrowing animals, we affectionately call them ditch diggers, and they didn't have any mud to dig a ditch, and so they had to move on,” said Kelly.

Mote launching stone crab research and education project in Tampa Bay with new grant

Mote Marine Laboratory is launching a new research and education project aimed at examining which coastal habitats might help stone crabs—a $30-million seafood staple in Florida—survive the growing threat of ocean acidification, thanks to a new grant from Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund.

The $70,000 grant will be matched by Mote and support the latest of several Mote studies aiming to shed light on the 30% decrease in Florida’s yearly stone crab catch since 2000. So far, Mote’s controlled lab studies point out that ocean acidification and high levels of Florida red tide can each have significant impacts on stone crabs throughout different stages of their life cycle.

Stone crab larvaFemale stone crabs brood their eggs—carry them until hatching—in coastal environments vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA), a worldwide decrease in ocean water pH driven by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH estimated to be three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century due to nutrient-rich runoff, a potential threat for sensitive coastal species.